I like this series by Donna Leon. Set in Venice, they are police procedurals featuring Commissario Guido Brunetti. In this one, an American archeologist is savagely beaten. Brett Lynch splits her time between her flat in Venice where she lives with her partner Flavia Petrelli, a successful opera singer, and the site in Xian, China where the terra cotta warriors are being unearthed. Brunetti recognises her name in a police report, having met her some years previously, and undertakes the investigation. Murder ensues, and much suspense, heightened by the onset of the seasonal high waters that flood the piazzas and lower floors.
One of the things I like about these books is the way Leon presents the whole of Brunetti's life, not just his work on the case and interactions with his co-workers, but also chats with his wife, cooking dinner, sorting out his children's problems, meeting friends for drinks. She manages to insert these scenes in such a way that they maintain, and sometimes even increase the suspense.
The characters in Leon's books are always well-drawn, even the minor characters. I particularly enjoyed seeing more of Sergeant Vianello and learning more about Signorina Elettra's background. She is the amazingly competent and resourceful secretary to Brunetti's superior, Dottor Patta. I also admired the way Signor La Capra and his son Salvatore, who could so easily have been simple stereotypes, come to life in this story.
Coincidentally, I recently saw the exhibit of terra cotta warriors at the National Geographic Museum in Washington, D.C. with my friend Laura. The warriors themselves were much larger than I'd envisioned and more varied. One of the docents explained that a new site had been found recently by a farmer and was in the process of being excavated. The new site is at some distance from the original tomb, so now they have widened their search for additional sites. With this background, I was not surprised that Brett was still actively working the site in Xian and could picture the artifacts to which she refers.
Such synchronicity always enhances my reading; I love when a book turns out to be set in a place where I have been or refers to something familiar like the terra cotta warriors. When my friend Cynthia was last in Venice, she encountered the acqua alta, though luckily not any murderers, and I well remember her account of the boards set up in the piazzas and the chilling cold. The water is ever-present in this book: the canals, the rain in Venice that inspired one of my favorite pieces of music, and the rising tides that drag at your feet and pour in over the tops of your boots.
I’ve been thinking a lot about book covers recently. This one, which shows the Basilica of San Marco reflected in a swirling puddle, accurately mirrors the content of the book but is confusing. If I hadn’t already been a fan of the series, the cover would not have enticed me to pick up the book.